Puches

Cover Image via Commonwealth of Social Services (Sierra Norte de Madrid)

I received some interesting feedback on the Post Tequesquite from an independent historian in New Mexico (1) who noted that tequesquite was listed in a document from 1844 (2) that listed it as an ingredient in a dish called “puches”. The document was part of a folio regarding a 16th of September (3) celebration planned at Santa Fe, New Mexico (when New Mexico was still part of the Mexican Republic).

  1. Robert J. Tórrez, former New Mexico State Historian, was born and raised in the northern New Mexico community of Los Ojos and received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Highlands University in Las Vegas, NM. He served as the New Mexico State Historian from 1987 to 2000 and in the past four decades published five non-fiction books, and contributed chapters and essays to nearly twenty textbooks and anthologies. Since 1992, he has written a monthly history column under the byline “Voices From the Past,” and has published more than one hundred articles in scholarly and popular publications such as New Mexico Magazine, True West, and New Mexico Historical Review.
  2. Budget for Refreshments 1844 16th of September celebration – 1844
  3. Mexican Independence Day

Maestro Tórrez graciously sent me a scan of the relevant page.

Budget for Refreshments 1844 16th of September celebration – 1844 Misc 37-564

The document is beautifully written but it raised several questions. The first of which “What are/is puches?” I am fairly well versed in Mexican cuisine but I have never come across this term before.

Research time.

The term puches (noun, feminine and plural) comes from the Latin word “pultes” and this in turn from the Greek “poltos”, (with a reference to porridge), this in turn is said to come from the Roman “puls” (1). Pultes is mentioned in an early Roman cookbook, De re coquinaria (On cooking matters), penned (or perhaps compiled) by the Roman gastronome Marcus Gavius ​​Apicius, more commonly known just as Apicius, who lived in the 1st Century AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. It is generally noted however that the book was not published until 3 or 4 hundred years later during the 4th or 5th Century.

  1. Puls is a pottage (thick soup or stew made by boiling vegetables, grains), made from farro (a kind of wheat) grains boiled in water, flavoured with salt. It was a staple dish in the cuisine of Ancient Rome. Puls is the precursor of polenta (a dish of boiled cornmeal that was historically made from other grains – before maize was introduced to countries outside of the Americas).
The man himself. Apicius.

The book was not only a set of recipes but really the Mrs Beetons (1) of its time and also taught various culinary tricks such as how to reuse leftovers or how to cook the same dish in a variety of ways depending on your budget or ingredient substitutions if you didn’t have exactly what the recipe called for.

  1. Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, also published as Mrs. Beeton’s Cookery Book, is an extensive guide to running a household in Victorian Britain, edited by Isabella Beeton and first published as a book in 1861.

Apicius’ recipe for “Pultes Tractogalate” (porridge stewed with flour and milk),

in Latin

  1. Lactis sextarium et aquae modicum mittes in caccabo novo et lento igni ferveat.
  2. Tres orbiculos tractae siccas et confringis et partibus in lac summittis.
  3. Ne uratur, aquam miscendo agitabis.
  4. Cum cocta fuerit, ut est, super ignem, mittis melle.
  5. Ex musteis cum lacte similiter facies, salem et oleum minus mittis.

and the Google translate

  1. Put a pint of milk and a little water in a fresh pot and let it boil over a slow fire. So far so good.
  2. Cut into three bowls and cut-and-dried and lower into milk. Eh? Individual word translations show something dried (siccas) being broken into pieces (confringis) and then being placed in a bowl and covered in milk (in lac summitis). It is a flour/bread dish so I’m assuming its crusty (or day old/stale) bread being used. Bread and butter pudding anyone?
  3. Lest it be burned, you shall shake the water by mixing. This seems to be a fairly normal instruction to watch you don’t burn the dish. With some dishes you cant walk away from the stove once cooking reaches a certain stage. Short story. Bring to the boil over low heat, stirring continuously, being careful not to burn the liquid.
  4. When it is boiled, you pour honey over the fire. Once it comes to the boil add honey.
  5. You’ll do the same with freshly made milk, and cook less salt and oil. Similarly (similiter) or You could do the same (similiter facies) with must (musteis) (See **NOTES**) and milk (musteis cum lacte) without using salt or oil in the dish.

**NOTES**

musteis from musteus (must) – of new wine. Must (from the Latin vinum mustum, “young wine”) is freshly crushed fruit juice (usually grape juice) that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit. This is the equivalent of verjuice. Verjuice is a highly acidic juice made by pressing unripe grapes, crab-apples or other sour fruit. The name ‘verjuice’ or ‘verjus’, comes from the French “vert jus”, which means ‘green’ or unripe juice. Traditionally it can it be made not only from grapes, but other fruit such as apples, crab apples and gooseberries which have a high acid content. The origins of verjuice can be traced back to antiquity. The Romans used unfermented grape juice in their cuisine. Known as ‘acresta’, it is the derivation of the modern Italian word for verjuice, ‘agresto’. Writer Macrobius (circa AD 400 ) also refers to its medicinal qualities. Verjuice was a common culinary ingredient in medieval Europe.

So the dish (as it appears to me) is a milk based “custard” thickened with bread and flavoured with honey.

It strikes me as being quite similar to the traditional Greek Galaktoboureko

Galaktoboureko, also known as “Greek Custard Pie,” is also known as “Milk Pie”. “Galakto” is the Greek word for “milk,” while “boureko” is Turkish for something wrapped in phyllo (1). Galaktoboureko origins go all the way back to ancient Greece, where a barley pudding (similar to the pultes recipe above), not unlike the custard in this dessert, was often served.

  1. Phyllo (or Filo) is a very thin unleavened dough used for making pastries such as baklava and börek in Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisines. Filo-based pastries are made by layering many sheets of filo brushed with oil or butter; the pastry is then baked.
Galaktoboureko
Image by Badseed – Own work, CC BY 3.0

The filling for the galaktoboureko is also quite similar in nature to the French crème pâtissière.

Crème patissiere, creme pat, or pastry cream is a rich and creamy custard. It’s thicker than creme Anglaise, which is a pouring consistency custard. It’s thickened using starch (1) and eggs/egg yolks and is sturdy enough to be piped. Pastry cream is heated to a boil, so that it thickens well. Because of the starch, the eggs don’t curdle readily. The pastry cream can be flavoured at different stages (2). A classic crème pâtissière is the perfect filling for pastries, traditionally used in Mille-feuille or choux pastry (profiteroles), and as the base for fruit tarts.

  1. classic recipes call for (wheat) flour although corn starch could be used.
  2. In the featured recipe brandy and anise are used. It doesn’t mention if it is the anise seed or a liqueur called anise. In this case I’m thinking its the seed but in other recipes the brandy is omitted and anise liqueur is used. I once was awarded a Bronze medal for an Apprentice of the Year competition which included a profiterole dish. I flavoured the crème pâtissière in the dish with a strawberry liqueur.

Lets take a closer look at the ingredients in our dish. This is also a budget for the dish and would be the start of the Head chefs job of costing the recipe so as to know the $ value of each portion/serving.

The list translates roughly as follows;

  • 5 Pounds sugar at 2 1/2 reales (there are 8 reals to a peso) (5lb = 2267.96g (2.267kg)
  • 2 pesos, 4 reales for eggs
  • 1 almud flour (almud is a volume measure equal to 1/12 of a fanega, which is approx. 2.3 bushels) (The fanega or Spanish bushel was an old measure of dry capacity in Spanish-speaking countries. It was generally used in an agricultural context to measure quantities of grain. The measure varied greatly, but in Castile, it was equivalent to roughly 55.5 litres (55.49)……Sooooo….. 1 almud = 4.6 litres (55.49/12=4.6241666). 1 litre of flour = 0.529 kg………..Soooooo……1 almud = 4.6 litres = 24334 g (2.43kg) flour
  • 1 peso for Tequesquite and anis
  • 2 1/2 quarts of brandy at 3 reals (2.5 (US) quarts = 2365.88ml (2.365 litres)


It appears the dish is for 5 people (Para 5) ?

  • 2.2kg (caster) sugar
  • 2.4kg (wheat) flour
  • 2.3l brandy
  • (quantity not noted) eggs
  • (quantity not noted) anise (seed)
  • (quantity not noted) tequesquite

Finding a relevant recipe was not so straight forward. The featured recipe was from 1844. The closest (in time) I could find was a recipe for “Puches de Guamantla” in an 1853 text.

This recipe is closer in nature to the galaktoboureko or the crème pâtissière than it is to Apicius’ pultes tractogalate with eggs being the main difference. This dish of puches uses must (or vino blanco – white wine) rather than milk.

Section 1 (Google Translate used

Treinta yemas de huevos bien batidas con siete onzas de azucar bien molida y medio real de vino blanco: por separado se batiran las trienta claras, dejandolas reposar hasta que las quede el asiento con espeso suficiente para poder untar o encalar las puches, luego que esten en disposicion como a continuacion se dire: despues de haber echado el vino a las yemas, se le agregaran siete onzas de manteca y una poca de sal molida, y echandolo en cuatro libras de harina de flor, se batira bien, debiendo quedar la masa muy suelta, y en caso necesario se le echara otra poca mas de harina, sobandola bien hasta que haga ojos dicha masa;

Thirty well-beaten egg yolks with seven ounces of well-ground sugar and half a real of white wine: the thirty egg whites will be beaten separately, leaving them to rest until they are thick enough to be able to spread or whitewash the puches, after they are disposition as follows: after having poured the wine into the yolks, add seven ounces of butter and a little ground salt, and pour it into four pounds of flower flour, mix well, leaving the dough very loose, and if necessary add a little more flour, kneading it well until the dough makes eyes;

Section 2

y de ella se haran las puches; se tendra preve nido un perol con agua herviendo, donde se hiran echando hasta que se levanten o suban arriba, y entonces se sacan poniendolas entre dos manteles a secar para despues meterlas al horno, mantienendolas alli hasta que se perciba el olor de ellas, que es la senal de que ya estan cocidas, y se sacaran para untarlas o encalarlas con los asientos de las claras de huevos, a las que se le echaran tres libras de azucar molida

and the puches will be made of it; a pot with boiling water will be provided, where they will be poured until they rise or rise to the top, and then they are removed by placing them between two tablecloths to dry and then put them in the oven, keeping them there until the smell of them is perceived, which It is the sign that they are already cooked, and they will be taken out to spread or whiten them with the egg whites, to which three pounds of ground sugar will be added.

I did find an earlier reference to puches in an article about aguamiel (the juice tapped from a flowering maguey plant). Francisco Hernández records in his Natural History of New Spain , written around the middle of the 16th century, a recipe for nequatolli (atole with honey)(1).

  1. aguamiel (literally water – honey) in Nahuatl the word used was “necutli” (nectar/honey). See Posts Medicinal Uses of the Maguey; Agave Syrup : A Healthy Alternative to Sugar?; Medicinal use of Miel de Agave (Agave Honey); Nutritional Value of Aguamiel for further information on aguamiel.

First, the nixtamal is made and then the dough is cooked in a clay pot until it begins to thicken, “a tenth of the métl (1) honey is added at that time ,… and finally it is left to boil for the time necessary for it to take on the consistency of puches or Spanish polenta. (2)” This tasty preparation was used by pre-Hispanic doctors as a tonic, because in the words of Hernández, “it softens the chest, nourishes a lot, strengthens and fattens the exhausted and restores lost strength…”

  1. metl – maguey cactus plant, century plant, agave; the basis for the production of pulque and mezcal, alcoholic beverages
  2. Before the Spanish had access to maize their “polenta” was made with other grains. In this case the wheat “berries” of the species of wheat known as einkorn. Padulosi (etal 1995) notes of einkorn “In this century, the cultivated T. monococcum has been utilized mainly to feed monogastric animals (in the form of hulled grain), and to produce whole or cracked grain foodstuffs (i.e. ‘puches’ in Spain; burghul in Turkey; ‘grünkorn’, ‘graupen’, muesli, and porridge in Northern Europe)”

Sweet porridge (1) is a recipe that is traditionally prepared in Spain for All Saints’ Day (November 1st), especially in Andalusia and in the Badajoz region (Extremadura). Although they are reminiscent of custard, the process is more similar to that of a bechamel, so the result is a kind of sweet, creamy bechamel with exquisite and fragrant nuances.

  1. The “puches” in question, although in Spain this dish might also be called “gachas”.

Gachas dulces andaluzas al anis – Andalusian sweet porridge with anise

Ingredients

  • (white) bread cut into cubes
  • 1500ml (1.5L) of milk
  • 100 ml olive oil
  • cinnamon sticks (1/2 stick)
  • cinnamon powder
  • peel of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons of matalauva
  • 300 g of sugar
  • 150 g of flour
  • Salt (no amount given – not much would be needed though – a good pinch maybe)

Method

  1. Fry the bread cubes and half of the lemon peel in a little oil so the bread takes on a lemony flavour. Set aside on paper towels to drain of any excess oil.
  2. To the hot oil that remains in the pan add the mataluava (See**NOTES**) and allow the oil to cool. This will add an anise flavour to the oil. Strain out the seeds.
  3. To your anis flavoured oil add the milk, cinnamon stick, half the sugar, the other half of lemon peel and the salt.
  4. In a separate bowl place the flour and the other half of the sugar. Using a “glass” (1/2 to 1 cup maybe) of the warm anise flavoured milk mixture and mix the flour/sugar mix unti it is smooth.
  5. Bring the remaining milk mixture to the boil, stirring constantly, and whisk in the diluted flour/sugar mix, avoiding lumps. Reduce heat to medium and stir until the mixture becomes quite thick.
  6. Remove the lemon peel and the cinnamon stick.
  7. Seve the porridge in a bowl. Garnish with the fried bread cubes and sprinkle powdered cinnamon over the top

**NOTES**

matalahúga o matalauva = (Pimpinella anisum) = anise

Heres another shorter version for those who don’t want to go the whole bechamel route. The (adapted) recipe comes via Gloria Moreno Vedia from a project developed by the Commonwealth of Social Services (Sierra Norte de Madrid) and was made as a celebratory dish for All Saints Day.

Ingredients

  • 2 litres of milk
  • 350g flour
  • A glass of anise // Cazalla
  • 1/2 litre oil
  • Bread of the day before (sic) – stale bread cut into cubes

Method

  1. Place the milk in a saucepan to gently heat it
  2. In a separate pan heat the oil and fry the bread cubes until golden and crunchy. Set aside on paper towels to drain any excess oil.
  3. Mix the flour with a little cold milk until it is smooth and lump free. Bring the milk in the saucepan to a boil and carefully whisk in the cold milk/flour mix, stirring constantly so it does not stick to the bottom of the pan or burn.
  4. Once it becomes thicker add the sugar and anise stir until incorporated and the mix thickens, again you are going for a bechamel like texture/thickness. See**NOTES**
  5. This recipe called for the fried bread cubes to be added to the mix in the pan and stirred in well prior to serving. You could always just plate up the puches (as in the previous recipe) and garnish with the bread cubes.

**NOTES**

A béchamel is typically made by cooking together flour and butter (a mixture called a roux) and cooking it until “light blonde” in colour (if cooked until much darker this roux is also used to thicken the New Orleans (USA) dish known as gumbo). The hot roux then has a hot milk mixture (generally flavoured with onion, bay leaf and cloves) whisked into it until it thickens (like a savoury custard). If you use stock instead of milk the sauce is known as a velouté rather than a béchamel. These two sauces (béchamel and velouté) are two of the five French “Mother sauces” typical to classical French cuisine.

Now that we have reached the end it is somewhat apparent that we have not discussed the tequesquite in the recipe. Tequesquite is generally used in the same manner as baking soda and can be used as a leavening agent (1). It is also used in tamales to “fluff up” and create a lighter dough (2).

  1. In cooking, a leavening agent or raising agent is any one of a number of substances used in doughs and batters that cause a foaming action that lightens and softens the mixture. Yeast and baking powder are two common leavening agents. An alternative to leavening agents is mechanical action by which air is incorporated (ie. by whisking the mixture.)
  2. it is also used to “soften” beans and to reduce the acidity of some sauces

Muchas gracias to Roberto for sharing this little piece of history with me.

References

  • Apicius & Elizabeth Robins Pennell Collection. (1498) De Re Coquinaria. Milan, Guillermus Le Signerre, 20 Jan. [Pdf] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/65072519/.
  • Mexican Archives of New Mexico, 1821-1846: 844 Miscellaneous.
  • Steffan Igor Ayora-Diaz (Editor) (2015) Cooking Technology: Transformations in Culinary Practice in Mexico and Latin America.  United Kingdom: Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • S. Padulosi, K. Hammer and J. Heller (Editors) :  (1995) Hulled wheat: Proceedings of the first International Workshop on Hulled Wheats, 21-22 July 1995, Castelvecchio Pascoli, Tuscany, Italy

Websites

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